Prednisone is a corticosteroid (a class of steroid) drug. It is a prescriptive medicine, meaning it is not available as over-the-counter and you need a doctor’s prescription for it. Though usually taken in a pill form, the drug is also dispensed as injections and inhalers. So is this drug beneficial for immunity? Let’s find out about prednisone and the immune system.
What Does Prednisone Do?
Prednisone works by lowering the immune response of our body. Our immune system is the first line of attack against disease-causing agents in the body. It serves to protect us from many diseases. You may be wondering why there would ever be a need to cut back on the natural defence system of our body by taking prednisone. Consider our body as a combat zone. When a pathogen attacks, our body defends itself by showing an immune response. This response generates inflammatory signals as a counter back mechanism. As a result, a series of reactions ensues at the point of attack. The point of entry shows increased blood supply. The local temperature may increase. There are redness and swelling. This is what we call inflammation. It fights the attacking agents and wards off disease. Sometimes the normal cells of our body may get in the line of fire.
In some rare cases, the immune defence mechanisms misfire. They mistake the normal body cells for invaders and attack them as it happens in autoimmune diseases. The inflammation continues to damage the cells. If either of the reasons for inflammation remains unchecked, it results in chronic disease states. In fact, inflammation remains the root cause of many chronic disease processes —for example, arthritis, celiac disease, lupus, asthma and so on.
It is here that prednisone comes as a lifesaver. If the signs and symptoms of a disease get worse over time, then your doctor may prescribe prednisone to keep a check on the immune response of your body.
What Is It Used For?
Your doctor may prescribe Prednisone as part of therapy along with other medicines. It is used on its own for the management of diseases like
- breathing difficulties as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- allergic reactions such as hay fever
- skin diseases like psoriasis arthritis
- certain blood disorders like autoimmune hemolytic anaemia
- immune system disorders
- eye ailments like uveitis
- after organ transplant surgery
- with chemotherapy regimes
Prednisone needs to be taken with vigilance. Following the doctors’ advice is essential. Stopping prednisone all of a sudden may worsen the condition.
Prednisone affects many systems of the body. That is why the drug carries an assortment of side effects. Some of them are unavoidable. Remember, your doctor will always prescribe the drug if the benefits outweigh the side effects.
The number of side effects and their severity depends upon the
- age of the patient
- the current health status
- the dose of the prednisone prescribed
- any other concurrent intake of medication
It is observed that women are more likely to experience side effects than men. The reasons for this are unknown. The side effects of prednisone are dose-dependent. Also, the longer you take medicine, the severe the side effects are. Some common side effects with short-term use of prednisone include:
- loss of appetite
- increased sweating
- increase in blood pressure
- increased sugar levels in diabetics
- behavioural changes as mood swings
- irritability and a feeling of restlessness
- sleep disturbances
Serious side effects occur with long-term use of prednisone. These include:
- irregular heartbeat
- muscle cramps and pains
- fluid retention and swelling all over the body
- unexplained weight gain
- thinning of skin
- recurrent infections
- disturbance or blurring of vision
- signs of internal bleeding as abdominal pain, black tarry stools and vomiting
- slow wound healing
- bone pain and weakening of bones
- depression and psychosis
Prednisone may set off an allergic reaction in some patients. Caution is advised while giving the drug via injections or when it is used for the first time in a patient.
Who Should Avoid Prednisone?
Patients must inform the doctor if they suffer from any of the following conditions while being prescribed the drug:
- history of allergy
- heart ailment as congestive heart failure
- ill-controlled blood pressure or diabetes
- glaucoma and cataracts
- any history of mental illness
- individuals with weak bones as in osteoporosis
- stomach ulcers
- pregnancy or trying to conceive
Precautions To Note
Prednisone is generally a safe drug to take. However, as with all medicines out there, caution is advised. Specific measures safeguard that you can use the drug without facing much side effects. These are:
- always follow the prescription
- do not increase your medicine if you miss a scheduled dose
- do not stop taking medicine by yourself. The sudden stoppage may worsen the side effects
- keep a watch on your weight. Report any sudden weight gain to your doctor
- reduce the intake of salt and sugar in your diet
- keep in touch with your doctor and convey any unusual signs or symptoms like breathlessness, vision disturbance, irregular heartbeat etc.